This book has drawn attention not because of its historical merit but due to its revisionist character.
The political career of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who along with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, occupied the centre stage of the anti-colonial movement, has several versions, both academic and popular. While some celebrate his triumph in creating a sovereign state against many odds, others focus on his tragedy of unrealised ambition, as the Pakistan which came into being bore very little resemblance to the one he dreamt of.
The present version written by Jaswant Singh, a prominent leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has attracted attention not because of its historical merit but because of its revisionist character. The BJP has held Muslims solely responsible for Partition, with Jinnah as their undisputed leader. Jaswant Singh has cast doubts on this long-held view by underscoring the inability of the Congress leaders such as Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel to preserve the unity of the country. Understandably, he attracted the ire of both the BJP and the Congress. The BJP is piqued by his relatively sympathetic treatment of Jinnah and his criticism of Patel, who has been appropriated as a part of its leadership pantheon. At the same time, to the Congress, the criticism of its leaders not trying enough to avert Partition is nothing short of blasphemy. Jaswant Singh appears to be following the lead given by Lal Krishna Advani in his speech (in Pakistan) wherein he had invoked the secular ideas of Jinnah. The BJP and its predecessors like Jan Sangh had long held the view that the chief architect of Partition was Jinnah and that, but for his obduracy, India would have remained united. Singh does not dismiss this thesis, but only qualifies it. In doing so, he seems to regard Jinnah more as a victim of history shaped by the imperatives of colonial politics than as one who was able to mould it according to his own will. After all, the British, the Congress, and the Muslim League were jointly engaged in solving the jigsaw puzzle of Indian politics.
The author brings out the fact that none of them could have solved it independently. While doing so, he seems to be sensitive to the complexities of the historical process which culminated in Partition, yet unable in practice to look beyond the way a couple of individuals shaped the destiny of the subcontinent. However important a role Jinnah or Nehru had played in the politics of this period, the partition of India was essentially the result of communalisation of both the Hindu and Muslim communities. By 1940, communalism had become so powerful that even Gandhiji had become helpless. Jinnah was an enigma, difficult to understand and more so to explain. Without being a devout Muslim — his irreligious habits are well known — he not only earned the loyalty of the Muslims of the subcontinent, but succeeded in carving out an independent Islamic state. For someone who started his political career as an ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ by playing a prominent role in forging the Lucknow Pact, it was quite a turnaround that he ended up as the ‘sole spokesman’ of Muslim political interests. When did this transition take place is difficult to ascertain, but by the1930s his alienation from the nationalist mainstream, except for occasional misgivings, appeared to be complete. During the Round Table Conference he “saw the face of danger, the Hindu sentiment, the Hindu mind, the Hindu attitude,” which led him to the conclusion that “there was no hope for unity.” Out of this conviction emerged the ‘two-nation theory,’ around which he marshalled his followers, as evident from the Lahore resolution of 1940. Since then Jinnah relentlessly pursued his quest for partition, aided partly by the colonial rulers and conceded by the Congress leaders. During the negotiations with the Cabinet Mission, Lord Wavell and Lord Mounbatten, Jinnah did not falter from his goal of an independent sovereign state for Muslims. The author holds that “to get Pakistan at all, a completely sovereign, if truncated, Muslim state, was for Jinnah an amazing triumph, the outcome not of some ineluctable historical trend, but of the determination of a single individual.”
Jinnah’s single-minded pursuit of Pakistan was based on a two-nation theory which propounded that the “Muslims had a different conception of life from the Hindus and there was no solution but a division of India,” — this according to the author was a “fundamental error.” But Jinnah’s reading of history and politics was such that he held that unity of India was a myth. But he was not the only one to hold such a view. Much before Jinnah, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had advocated it as early as in 1924 to explain his notion of Hindutva. It would be interesting to study whether Hindu communalism contributed to the making of two-nation theory (as advocated by Jinnah) that was at the root of Partition. Jaswant Singh is silent on the role of Hindu communalism in bringing about the “vivisection” of India.
A deep wound
Whatever caused Partition — fatigue or prospects of power or British manipulation — an inhuman uprooting took place of “countless millions as had not ever been experienced, even in this land of great and tragic events…What was left behind was bitterness, a deeply wounding trauma which continues to torment the psyches of the successor countries, till today.” Partition, as the author rightly says, is a defining moment in the history of the subcontinent, the lessons of which should be internalised particularly by those who subscribe to a communal ideology.
JINNAH – India, Partition, Independence: Jaswant Singh; Rupa & Co., 7/16, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 695.